Fire Emblem Heroes: What to know about Nintendo's newest game

Super Mario ran. Pokemon went. And then there was Fire Emblem. It's on Android and iOS right now.

What is Fire Emblem, and since when is it a thing?

Remember when we got all weepy for '80s nostalgia and it finally convinced Nintendo to join the modern era by bringing Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run to phones?

Fire Emblem Heroes is the third big mobile game from Nintendo. It's based on a long-running series of totally awesome turn-based strategy games that are kind of like playing chess, only with weapons and spells and if your pieces were each unique characters with names and backstories and hopes and dreams and romance and tragic, tragic deaths.

There's like 15 games in all.

15 games?!? Why have I never heard of it before?

Japan didn't think we could handle it, because anime. English speakers have missed the first seven games or so.

Also, you needed a Game Boy. (Or later, a GameCube, Wii or DS handheld.)

Oh. Hold up, do I need a game console for this one?

Nope! This one's a free download for both iOS (here) and Android (here) as of right now, today, February 2. You couldn't play on a console even if you wanted to.

Do I need an internet connection to play?

Yep. Heroes will regularly check for an internet connection while the app is open, so don't expect to be able to play on a plane or when you want to be data-conscious.

Wait, isn't Fire Emblem the one with all the... touching?

Yeah, so, the Japanese version of the last game in the series had a mode where you could invite characters to your love nest and... well, rub them a bit? But only above the collarbone, and only in Japan. As far as we're aware, there's no petting in Fire Emblem Heroes.

Can I play it with one hand?

I just said... Oh, you mean because it's a phone game and you commute by bus or something? Sure. It looks like you can play most of the game with one thumb.

So. Many. Menus. How do I actually play?

At the bottom of the screen, pick Battle, then Story Maps > Main Story and select the next available mission.

What the heck is happening?
  • You drag each one of your heroes to a blue square to move them, a green square to support/heal a friend or a red square to attack an enemy (the colors are your movement range). Choose wisely!
  • The computer compares your hero's stats against the enemy's stats, runs the numbers, and you watch them battle.
  • Then it's the computer's turn to attack you with each of its characters.
  • When you wipe out all the enemies, you win!
  • Move onto the next level and do it again.
When do I get to play and fight people?

You just did. It's a strategy game, not Street Fighter. You don't press buttons to throw fireballs or swing a sword, you just dictate where your characters go and who they fight.

Is there a story?

"A world with two kingdoms: the Emblian Empire, which wishes to rule all worlds, and the Askran Kingdom, which stands in its way. You are a summoner with the special ability to call upon legendary Heroes from different Fire Emblem worlds. In order to save the Kingdom of Askr from destruction, join the Order of Heroes and face a never-ending challenge."

Is there a GOOD story?

Probably not. "Never-ending challenge" and all that. We'll let you know.

All my heroes just died. Did I lose? How do I win?

So those numbers the computer runs? In Fire Emblem, you can calculate the outcome of any battle yourself. Traditionally, you just add your luck and support bonuses to your weapon accuracy, add double your skill...

Are you kidding me?

OK, less math. See this GIF? Don't do that.

Before any attack, you'll be able to see roughly how much damage you'll likely do to the enemy, and how much they'll do back. Hint: 4 damage is pathetic, and 9x2 damage means they're going to murder you in the face with two back-to-back attacks.

(9x2 = 18, and since this dashing swordsman only had 18 points of health, aka HP...)

You *just* used math. I hate you.

As long as you understand when some numbers are higher than other numbers, you'll be fine. Also, you can sometimes just play rock-paper-scissors: sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword. Usually.

Ugh, come on, can't I just throw a fireball?

Sure, some characters can use magic, and archers have bows. When you hit an enemy from far away, they can't hit you back unless they've got a ranged weapon too. Some might call this cheating. In Fire Emblem, it's strategy.

Oh, and if you do enough damage to take out a foe, they don't get to hit you back. Exploit that all the time if you want to win.

Those baddies look tough. What if I don't want to move?

Just hit the End Turn button. But maybe first, see whether they'll be able to move close enough to hit you by pressing the Danger Area button?

(Danger Zone! Missed opportunity, I know.)

That dude with the bow totally just one-shot my beautiful dragon/flying horse rider. WTF?

Flying things get shot easy.

You can do it to them, too. If you tap your archer and you see a little green checkmark pop up over the head of a foe, that means it's begging for an arrow. Also, watch out for wyrmsbane if you've got a dragon.

How much do I have to learn before I can even play this game?

That's probably enough! But there's also terrain advantages (hint: trees are awesome), the ability to level up characters to make them stronger by spending shards and crystals (which you might also have to buy with My Nintendo Points -- ugh), skills to learn by spending SP, arena duels and hero battles, monthly quests and missions...

Are all the warriors women in short skirts?

No, some of them are really cute boys who could pass for girls. There are also some grizzled old warriors if you're into that sort of thing.

This app is free. When does the free-to-play nonsense come in?

Unlike Super Mario Run, Heroes lacks a "buy everything for one price" option. To level up your heroes and progress through the game, you're going to have to put in a lot of time and effort. Or buy a lot of orbs.

What are orbs and why am I already scared for my wallet?

Orbs are the nexus through which Nintendo hopes to take all of your money. You start with 15 or so, and they're used for everything from healing your heroes on the battlefield to replenishing your stamina bar so you can tackle more missions. Most importantly, orbs are used to summon new heroes.

Spend five orbs, and a random Fire Emblem character will join your team, from a cast of hundreds. But there's more to it. By spending more orbs at once, you reduce the per-character cost. Purchased separately, five heroes would cost 25 orbs. Purchased together, the heroes would only cost 20. And as an added benefit, the more heroes purchased at once, the greater likelihood they'll be more powerful versions of themselves.

It's too early to tell whether this will end up being a fair system or a free-to-play nightmare, but for now, it's probably best to hoard your orbs and use them to buy as many heroes at once as possible.

Whoa, why won't the game let me play anymore?!?

You probably ran out of stamina by playing too many missions in a row. Or maybe you just accidentally unequipped and re-equipped some skills? Each time you want to start a new level or even tweak your characters, it'll cost you Stamina points.

You start with 50, and you get one back every 5 minutes or so. Or -- what Nintendo's hoping for -- you'll spend yet another orb to replenish the entire meter at once.

How much are these orbs going to make my wallet bleed?

I got a sword person, another sword person and a woman with green hair. Am I going to care about any of these characters?

Not likely, unless you're really into their character art, stats or know them from previous Fire Emblem entries. Mario Run and Pokemon Go pulled heavily from nostalgia, and Fire Emblem is no different... it's just a nostalgia that not many people have.

Some of these people look familiar...

You probably recognize them from Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series, which have featured several characters from Fire Emblem as playable characters, most notably Marth and Roy.

Or perhaps you recognize them from other Fire Emblem games, because Heroes is basically Fire Emblem Fantasy Football.

At least now we know why Anna keeps showing up.

Can you breed people, enslave their children and turn them into soldiers?

[Caitlin: Whoa, whoa, whoa, are you for real?! I'm so not playing this if I need to enslave "children."]

Previous Fire Emblem games would let you build friendships, romance, marry, even bear children that would take on the traits of their parents -- then let you travel through time to recruit them, as teens, into your army of doom and/or redemption.

Not in Heroes, though.

I can't seem to crush my heroes' dreams and experience the full, poignant beauty of their transient lives because they don't stay dead. What's the point?

Wow, that's really deep, and you might be a teensy bit broken inside. But yes, this is one of the rare Fire Emblem games where death isn't permanent.

Heck, you can just pop an orb to instantly revive your entire team, give them a free turn and a free super move.

That'll be $1.99, please.


'Fire Emblem: Heroes' Comes Out Today On iOS And Android

Update: 4:57 and it seems to be out.

Update: 3:56 and still not out, but keeping our eyes peeled…

Nintendo continues its push onto mobile devices with Fire Emblem: Heroes, releasing sometime today on both iOS and Android. This comes after the mega success of Niantic Labs’ Pok√©mon GO, as well as the more qualified success of Nintendo’s own Super Mario Run, which came out in December. Fire Emblem: Heroes gives the mobile treatment to a franchise well-known among the Nintendo faithful, but not quite as iconic as properties like Mario or Zelda. Unlike Super Mario Run, it’s being billed as truly free to play, and so it will be interesting to see how Nintendo manages a monetization strategy that it still doesn’t have much experience with.

As of right now, I’m not seeing it inside the app store on either iPhone or iPad, but it appears to have already been released in Europe and Japan. Hopefully it arrives in North America soon, and we’ll update you when that happens.

Like the main line of games, Fire Emblem: Heroes is a turn-based tactical strategy game, only streamlined for quicker play sessions and touch controls. The free-to-play system comes by way of a stamina meter that controls how often you can fight — like most games of its kind, you can spend money to fight more often. We’ll have more thoughts when we get to spend some time with the title, but I’m most interested in how well the depth translates to a smaller screen, and to what degree this title will be aimed at more casual or hardcore players.

I wouldn’t expect this to be a massive phenomenon, but that might be okay. Nintendo led its mobile development push with its most recognizable character, and didn’t do a great job with it: a massive publicity push before release still led to confusion due to questionable design choices, and it became clear that while Nintendo had mastered the moment-to-moment gameplay of a touch based game, it still hadn’t been able to figure out the overarching structures of a mobile title. A slightly less well-known series like Fire Emblem takes the pressure off a little bit, and might give the company an opportunity to fine-tune its approach with a smaller but more dedicated audience.

Fire Emblem Heroes is a reminder of how terrible friend codes are

Fire Emblem Heroes uses a version of Nintendo’s archaic friend code system, which the company has still yet to abandon. Unlike its predecessors Miitomo and Super Mario Run, the game doesn’t have any other options for players to connect with each other. They must either trade 10-digit, randomly generated numeric codes or go it alone.

This will be familiar to anyone who played multiplayer games on Nintendo DS or Nintendo Wii, systems which predate Nintendo’s gradual acceptance of modern online communication. Even some recent Wii U and Nintendo 3DS games use friend codes, but they’ve mostly gone by the wayside in the last few years.

Super Mario Run ushered their return with its December launch on iOS. That game has one big thing going for it in the multiplayer department over Fire Emblem Heroes, however: Players can connect through Facebook and Twitter to find “recommended friends” that they can add to their friends lists.

That’s not an option at all in Fire Emblem Heroes. Instead, players have to search by user ID exclusively, even though they’re asked to link up their Nintendo Accounts before launching the game.

Both of these frameworks are recent additions to Nintendo’s hardware, but they have yet to be implemented as expected. With the advent of the Nintendo Switch, which launches in March, we hope that online play will be a much less arduous process than it has with consoles past.

It’s remarkable that Nintendo’s foray into the fast-paced world of mobile has seen the company reverting back to its old ways in the meantime. We’re still excited about Fire Emblem Heroes — and would be happy to exchange user IDs! — but this is certainly a major disappointment with the company’s latest mobile endeavor.

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